RANGOON—The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued their election manifesto on Monday, detailing the policy priorities of the opposition party as Burma moves to the historic Nov. 8 poll.
Much of the NLD’s platform reflects many of the political causes publicly advocated by party leader Aung San SuuKyi since her 2012 election to Union Parliament, while avoiding specific reference to legislative changes a future NLD government would enact.
Prominently featured throughout the manifesto are promises of constitutional and political reform to promote the rule of law and to bring the country into line with international human rights standards.
The party platformsaidthat if elected, the NLD would hold political dialogue to address the root causes of ethnic conflicts and work towards a genuine federal union built on the principles of equal rights for ethnic groups, self-determination and resource sharing.
Political analyst Yan MyoThein said that while the NLD’s commitment to ethnic rights was laudable, the party needed to do more to raise awareness of the reasons why it was seeking a federal system of government.
“We cannot say we have started the steps toward democratic transition unless the 2008 Constitution is amended with democratic norms,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “[But] the NLD should clearly mention the link to national reconciliation to the need to constitutional amendment so that people can understand its importance.”
Along with constitutional reform to devolve power to states and divisions, the NLD has pledged to amend the 2008 charter to change the balance of power between the legislature, the executive and judiciary.
On the subject of administrative reform, the party said it would reduce the overall number of ministries to cut down on expenses, with a focus on driving efficiency in the public sector and abolishing laws that infringe upon personal freedom and security.
The manifesto did not outline which ministries would be amalgamated or abolished as part of the efficiency drive.
The policy platform stressed the need to bring the Burma Armed Forces under administrative control. At present, military appointees occupy 25 percent of the seats in each of the nation’s legislatures, and the Burma Armed Forces retain executive control over the ministries of Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defense.
The NLD’s economic platform, first unveiled in July, said the party would focus on the development of basic infrastructure and improvement of tax collection systems.
Regarding agriculture—which the Asian Development Bank estimates to account for 30 percent of the nation’s GDP and 60 percent of its workforce—the NLD’s manifesto said the party would encourage the development of farmers’ organizations, protect farmers from unlawful land confiscations, and grant farmers the right to grow, produce, store, mill and sell crops of their choosing.
The Farmlands Law, passed in 2012, currently gives authorities the legal right to evict farmers who change their crops without prior permission from township authorities, leave farmland dormant or mortgage their land without using government-approved lenders.
While the NLD gave education reform activistsa wide berth earlier this year, it appears at least some of the changes sought by student unions, activists and education experts have been incorporated into the party’s platform.
The manifesto said the party wouldmake primary education compulsory, provide vocational training, adopt an education system that promotes ethnic languages and cultures and grant autonomy for universities.
After the September 2014 passage of the National Education Law, which was supported by the NLD in Union Parliament, SuuKyi called on demonstrators to abandon plans for an ill-fated protest march from Mandalay to Rangoon in January. Reform advocate DrTheinLwin was dismissed from the party’s central executive committee the following month for lending support to the student protests, which ended after a violent police crackdown in the town of Letpadan in March.
Guarantees allowing the independent formation of student and teacher unions, a key plank of student demands for the law’s overhaul, have not been addressed in the manifesto. The NLD’s platform made no solid commitment to raise public spending on education—currently estimated at 2 percent of GDP—instead pledging to spend existing budget outlays more efficiently.
The NLD’s did, however, commit to an increase the health budget, which currently stands at around 3 percent of total budget outlays. The party’s manifesto promised to make basic healthcare more widely available, provide training for medical staff and reduce costs for patients.